The health wonders of ginger

‘Ginger is among the healthiest (and most delicious) spices on the planet.  It is loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds that have powerful benefits for your body and brain.”—Joe Leech, in article published in the newsletter, Healthline

One of the most awaited schedules of an international conference I attended recently in Cairns, Australia, was the visit to the Great Barrier Reefs.  Before we left the pier, however, we were told to take a medicine but two journalists—one from Indonesia and another from Fiji—didn’t heed the advice.

So, when we were at the open sea, as the yacht kept moving, the two journalists started to feel dizzy.  A few minutes later, one was already vomiting, while the other was nauseous. “So, this is how it feels,” the Indonesian scribe said.

 He was referring to motion sickness.  The French call it mal de mer, and even the most seasoned sailors can suffer from it.  In Greek, nausea means “seasickness” (from the word naus or “ship”).  If the motion causing nausea is not resolved, the person is most likely to vomit.

 Any type of transportation—car, bus, boat, ship, plane, helicopter and even rollercoaster—can cause motion sickness. “It can strike suddenly, progressing from a feeling of uneasiness to a cold sweat, dizziness and then vomiting,” the US-based Mayo Clinic says. “Motion sickness usually quiets down as soon as the motion stops. The more you travel, the more easily you’ll adjust to being in motion.

 There are over-the-counter drugs that are effective at preventing motion sickness.  Unfortunately, they can cause drowsiness.  At one time, I tried taking something that contains dimenhydrinate on my trip back to the Philippines from the United States.  Every now and then, I was sleeping in my seat.  The flight stewardess had to wake me up for the meal.  The drugs are most effective when taken an hour or two before traveling.

 When I was kid, my mother usually brought with her some gingers whenever we were traveling.  “Everything good is found in ginger,” she said, quoting a popular Indian proverb.  And she added that it’s good motion sickness.

And she was right.  A 1982 study revealed that people prone to motion sickness who took ginger lasted 57 percent longer in a computerized rocking chair than people who took an over-the-counter remedy.  Ginger has been found to help in treating nausea caused by dizziness, according to the book Super Life, Super Health.

 Ginger may also help ease some of the nausea experienced by pregnant women, Australian researchers reported in the April 2004 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  Researchers from the University of South Australia in Adelaide gave nearly 300 women either 350 milligrams of ginger or 25 milligrams of vitamin B6 three times per day for three weeks. The researchers found that both ginger and vitamin B6, which is sometimes taken to counteract morning sickness, worked equally well at alleviating nausea symptoms.

 Some sources warn against higher doses in pregnancy due to concerns about mutations or abortion. “Supervision by a qualified health-care professional is recommended for pregnant women considering the use of ginger,” the Minnesota-based Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research suggests.

 Ginger is a common ingredient in Filipino cuisine.  The root or underground stem (rhizome) can be consumed fresh, dehydrated, powdered, or pickled.  The Filipino traditional health drink called salabat, is made from boiled fresh or powdered ginger.  It also adds flavor to some common dishes like tinola, goto, arroz caldo, paksiw, batchoy and pinakbet.  Likewise, it is used as an ingredient in the manufacture of soft drinks and in the preparation of preserved.

 The curative powers of ginger can be traced to ancient China.  For 7,000 years, its natural inflammatory properties have made it widespread in China’s medicinal market.  Today, more than 50 percent of all traditional Chinese herbal remedies reportedly contain ginger.

Even in the United States, ginger is now considered as a medicinal plant.  It is “generally recognized safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, though it is not approved for the treatment or cure of any disease but it is sold as an unregulated dietary supplement.

 Allison Young, in an article published by Fox News Health, wrote that ginger can boost immunity.  “Watch out, colds,” the article said.  “Not only does ginger contain sesquiterpenes, chemicals that combat rhinovirus (the most common cause of colds), sipping ginger tea can also reduce congestion and other cold and flu symptoms, according to Cardiff University Researchers.  What’s more, ginger is also full of immune-boosting antioxidants, and acts as a natural pain and fever reducer.”

Speaking of pain, ginger can also ease arthritis pain.  “There is some evidence that ginger may be helpful for reducing joint pain and inflammation in arthritis sufferers,” wrote registered dietitian Danielle Capalino, author of Healthy Gut, Flat Stomach.  In a study published in Arthritis and Rheumatology, the researcher found out that ginger extract can significantly reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.

 Period pain can also be diminished.  “The most surprising benefit of ginger is that you can use it to alleviate menstrual pain,” Capalino wrote.  It works just like any other over-the-counter drugs.  A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine found that ginger was as effective as Ibuprofen in relieving period pain.

 The problem of schistosomiasis, a common problem among Filipinos living near bodies of water, can also be curtailed by ginger. Tracey Roizman, writing for Livestrong, reported: “Schistosomiasis may respond well to treatment with ginger extract, according to researchers in biology department of King Khaled University, Saudi Arabia.  Ginger produced the most inhibition of the parasite among several tested plants in the study.  Worms treated with ginger had altered surface structures with loss of certain areas and erosion in others.  Microscope evaluation of liver tissue showed fewer and smaller affected areas in ginger-treated animals.”

Reader’s Digest also reported some health benefits of ginger.  For one, ginger may help prevent cancer.  “Ginger may have some cancer-fighting properties, according to several studies.  In one, researchers found that ginger caused ovarian cancer cells to die.  Another study found that ginger root supplements reduced inflammation in the colon,” it said.

 The web site, www.healthline.com, says the anti-cancer properties are attributed to 6-gingerol, a substance that is found in large amounts in raw ginger.  “There is some, albeit limited, evidence that ginger may be effective against pancreatic cancer and breast cancer.  More research is needed,” the web site pointed out.

Ginger can also lower blood-sugar levels.  “A new study found that powdered ginger lowered blood-sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes,” Reader’s Digest said.  “If this is of concern to you, monitor your sugar carefully and check with your doctor on how the ginger could interact with medications, which could throw off insulin levels in a dangerous way.”

 In a 2015 study of 41 participants with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of ginger power per day reportedly lowered fasting blood sugar by 12 percent.

Here’s a good news.  Ginger may help lower cholesterol levels.  High levels of LDL lipoproteins (to be the “bad” cholesterol) are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.  The foods you eat can have a strong influence on LDL levels.

 “In a 45-day study of 85 individuals with high cholesterol, 3 grams of ginger powder caused significant reductions in most cholesterol markers,” healtline.com reported.  “This is supported by a study in hypothyroid rats, where ginger extract lowered LDL cholesterol to a similar extent as the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin.   Both studies also showed reductions in total cholesterol and blood triglycerides.”

Now, here’s a word of warning: Though generally recognized as safe, ginger can cause heartburn, bloating, gas, belching and nausea, particularly if taken in powdered form.  Allergic reactions to ginger generally result in a rash.   Individuals who have had ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or blocked intestines may react badly to large quantities of fresh ginger, doctors warn. Children should not use ginger under two years of age.